Published on November 9, 2020

Virtual Summit Empowers Students as Climate Leaders

"My favorite part was participating in strong, amazing conversations and getting to meet and see so many smart, educated young people doing their best to change the world." —Summit Participant

Screenshot of participants attending the virtual 2020 Western MA Youth Climate Summit

In mid-October, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and The Hitchcock Center for the Environment teamed up for a fourth year to host the two-day 2020 Western Mass Youth Climate Summit, which focuses on youth empowerment in the face of the global climate crisis. The Youth Climate Leadership Team—led by five youth participants from Frontier Regional, Hampden Charter School of Science, Amherst Regional High School, and one homeschooled student—organized the main event on the themes of race, climate change and activism.

Since the event was held virtually this year, middle and high schools from beyond the Connecticut River Valley were invited to participate in both the main event and on-going monthly sessions that will support education and action on the climate crisis throughout the school year. This also allowed for more collaboration across the organization. Mass Audubon's Berkshires Sanctuaries have been involved in outreach to schools and funding the event; Nia Keith, Mass Audubon Climate Change Education Manager, attended the Summit as a resource person; and Alexandra Vecchio, Mass Audubon's Climate Change Program Director, will be the first speaker for the year-long climate series.

After dynamic presentations on topics such as connections between the Climate Crisis and COVID-19, using storytelling and poetry to advance climate awareness, and creative strategies for mobilizing people, student teams used the information and inspirations gathered through the Summit to prepare Climate Action plans for their schools. Highlights from plans include:

  • W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School (Berkshires)—Instituting recycling and composting in the cafeteria.
  • Frontier Regional High School (Connecticut River Valley)—A virtual event on climate change to educate the student body as well as faculty on impacts and reality of climate change.
  • Suffield High School (Connecticut)—Implement a compost program with the Agri-Science program, including a can in the cafeteria for compost and a can in the Agricultural Department to put flowers and other compostable materials in.
  • Homeschool (Connecticut River Valley)—Education about climate issues for fellow homeschoolers and seeking a location to work together on a climate action project.

These teams will be joined by participants from last year’s Summit and new schools from across the whole region for on-going education through the monthly sessions and coaching on implementing their projects from the Youth Climate Leadership Team; Brittany Gutermuth, Mass Audubon’s Climate Education Coordinator for Connecticut River Sanctuaries; and Colleen Kelley, Hitchcock Center’s Education Director.

Monthly sessions will alternate between issues presentations and Western Mass Youth Climate Summit office hours for feedback and coaching on teams' Climate Action Plans. Presentation topics will include:

  • Climate and climate justice legislation
  • Bringing climate education to your school
  • Intersectionality of climate change and justice
  • Meet with local representatives on climate action

The work of this year’s Summit will conclude in June with a Climate Solutions Expo featuring presentations by participating schools.